Gene's Blog: Rare air for top-ranked Tommie men
January 16, 2013
Coach John Tauer has leaned on his seniors in the top-ranked Toms' 15-0 start. (Mark Brown photo)
This is becoming a season marked by records, road wins and rare air for Tommie men’s basketball.
Coach John Tauer said the 15-0 and top-ranked Tommies won't get spoiled by the success and attention. They have too many goals to reach over the coming weeks.
“We’re excited with how the first 15 games of the season and 10 conference games have gone,” Tauer said. “To be 15-0 and ranked first in the country is a reflection of the hard work, unselfishness, and leadership of the members of the team.
“We are pleased to have sole possession of the MIAC at the midway point as we strive for what would be a record eighth consecutive championship.”
Among the specific highlights thus far:
--Out of 1,000-plus NCAA institutions at all levels, St. Thomas is the first to win its first 14 football games and first 14 men’s basketball games in the same school year.
--The Tommies ascended to the No. 1 ranking out of 407 programs in this week’s d3hoops.com national poll. It’s the third UST men’s basketball team in the last five years to reach No. 1, and second in the regular season. After starting this season at No. 11, the Tommies have climbed in each of the last five polls from No. 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to No. 1.
--UST is one of just nine unbeaten NCAA teams, including only four in Division III (St. Thomas, Rochester, Middlebury, Worcester Poly).
--The Tommies rank in the top 15 in Division III statistics in eight categories: tied for first in win percentage; first in scoring margin (plus 24); second in field-goal proficiency (.536); fourth in 3-point proficiency (.442); sixth in assist/turnover ratio; eighth in assists; eighth in scoring (87 ppg); and 14th in turnover margin (plus-6).
--UST has surpassed 90 points nine times, including an exhibition win at D-II Winona State, which is now 14-3 at in the thick of the Northern Sun Conference race. St. Thomas is on pace to break a 29-year-old school record for season points of 82.7.
--St. Thomas' 15 3-point baskets made at St. Olaf on Monday tied its 21-year-old school record for most threes made in one game. The Toms converted 15-of-30 from behind the arc, by seven different shooters. They made 4-of-15 to start the game then hit their last two treys of the first half and 9-of-13 in the second half. UST’s previous high of 15 was recorded in 1991-92 in a two-overtime loss against Bethel when current head coach Tauer was a freshman sixth man.
PHOTO: Will DeBerg (14)
--The Tommies went 6-0 over the last two weeks to move to 10-0 in the MIAC, and have built leads of at least 25 points in each of their last five games. They hold a 2 1-2 game cushion over second-place Augsburg and Concordia.
--A different player has led them in scoring in each of the last five games.
--Hannon (84 games, 861 points, 486 rebounds) has a chance to become just the eighth player to surpass 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds over four seasons with the Tommies. The Toms are 75-9 in games he’s played in his career.
--Nance plays his 100th career game Wednesday and is closing in on 200 career assists. Last week on the road, Nance guarded Bethel 1,000-point scorer Taylor Hall (22 ppg) and held him to nine points (none in the first half).
--The Toms are now 8-0 on the road but still face tough trips to Concordia, Carleton, Augsburg, Gustavus and St. John’s.
--The Tommies have won a Division III-best 120 games in the last five seasons. That includes a 90-14 record since the current seniors joined the varsity in 2009-10.
St. Thomas had five seniors in key roles when it won its 2011 NCAA title. Last season, Tauer took over the team and had only one senior on his roster. That and the mid-season loss of Tommy Hannon created challenges.
UST battled through a mild slump and shared the conference title. The Toms won eight of their last nine games and finished 22-7.
This season, four senior starters give the Tommies a solid foundation.
“We are led by four stellar senior starters: Will DeBerg, Tommy Hannon, Noah Kaiser, and John Nance,” Tauer said. “Each of these seniors exemplifies what St. Thomas basketball is all about -- commitment to the team, unselfishness, determination, hard work, leadership, and a willingness to improve each and every day. Erik Tengwall has provided great leadership as our starting point guard.”
Tauer’s bench has been outstanding and allows for a running, pressing game with any combination on the floor.
“Our depth is a big part of what makes us special, accounting for nearly 40 points per game and allowing us to play an uptempo style on offense and defense,” Tauer said. “Marcus Alipate, Conner Nord, and Zach Riedeman all play like starters even though they come off the bench for us in most games. Josh Pella, Cortez Tillman, and Taylor Montero are also providing a huge spark off the bench.
PHOTO: Conner Nord (42)
"Several other players provide leadership and exuberance, with many young players vying for minutes as they gain more experience. The passion that all of our players have for basketball, the pride they have in our university and program, and the purpose with which they work help create an exciting atmosphere whether it be practice or games.”
Tauer, 33-7 in his young head coaching career, had to follow a legend in replacing national champion head coach Steve Fritz. But his 15 years in the program as a player and assistant coach have prepared him well. He also credits an experienced coaching staff for his smooth transition.
“Our coaching staff does an excellent job of working diligently to prepare the players for each game, with Jim Hayes focusing on our half-court defense, post players, and game preparation; Jon Hughes on our press, post players, and scouting; Mike Keating on offense, perimeter players, and film breakdown; and Don Johnson on game preparation, perimeter players, and game management.”
Tauer said the tough early trips to Winona and Washington state helped prepare the Tommies for the 20-game MIAC grind.
“We played a tough nonconference schedule, including two wins over top-10 ranked teams in Whitworth (No. 4) and UW Stevens Point (No. 7), and had a comeback victory over Bethany Lutheran, all of which prepared us well for conference play. We look forward to the next 10 games, as well as what we hope will be a successful postseason run.”
Since 2006, Tommie men’s basketball is 72-3 on campus against conference opponents. They play Macalester (7:30 p.m.) Wednesday at home, and could have 5-8 additional home games, depending on the postseason.
“We thank all of the fans who have supported us, with some great crowds at our recent games against Augsburg (94-52 victory) and St. John's (94-63 victory),” Tauer said. “We look forward to students returning to campus to help create an electric atmosphere in Schoenecker Arena as we shoot for the MIAC title and the opportunity to host playoff games.”